Old Gods, New Tricks
Since a court ruling in Athens in 2006, it is no longer illegal for Greeks to worship their ancient gods. Just what Dionysus, Apollo and co had done to get themselves declared illegal in the first place is unclear. But anyhow, they’re back, and they’re gaining popularity here and in the US too.
You’d think we’d got enough confusion with the ones we already have. But perhaps that’s it. After 2,000 years we still don’t know whether Jesus is a Protestant or a Catholic, and the Shia and Sunni versions of Allah don’t have much time for each other either. So, with UFO sightings, crop circles and the Loch Ness monster not as popular as they once were, maybe there’s a gap in the mumbo-jumbo market.
Any Christians thinking of converting should find few extra demands on their gullibility. Miraculous deeds and virgin births as a result of liaisons between Zeus and mortal women were ten a penny in the ancient world. They even had a flood myth every bit as good as Noah’s.
Zeus had decided, because of mankind’s wickedness, to destroy the world with a great flood, and Deucalion was advised to build a boat to save his family and animals. After drifting for nine days the flood subsided, and they came to rest on top of a mountain. He was then told by an oracle to repopulate the earth by throwing behind him the bones of his grandmother. Fortunately he interpreted this to mean the stones of mother earth, and these sprang to life as human beings as they fell to the ground.
Another story Christians will have little trouble with is about Heracles and his struggle with temptation.
Bible readers will recall how Jesus, after wandering in the wilderness for 40 days, was tempted by Satan to turn stones into bread. (A fairly sensible suggestion – he could, after all, feed multitudes with a few loaves and fishes). But he refused – for the rather puzzling reason that ‘man does not live by bread alone.’
Satan then took him up a high mountain where they could see ‘all the kingdoms of the world.’ If he bowed down before Satan, he was told, all this would be his. (Satan had apparently forgotten that Jesus was the son of God. His dad made it and already controlled the whole lot.) Not surprisingly, Jesus told him to get stuffed (or rather, to ‘get thee behind me’).
The temptation of Heracles, on the other hand, was a real test. In one of his numerous adventures he was out one day when he came to a fork in the road. One branch was a good, wide road but narrowed and got stony as it went on. By it stood a beautiful, gaudily dressed woman calling him. The other fork was narrow and thorny but got better in the distance. By this was a plain, modestly dressed woman. She also called him. These two, it turned out, were ‘Vice’ and ‘Virtue.’
Now most Greek heroes would have grabbed ‘Vice’ and made off her without even giving her time to fix her makeup. But holier-than-thou Heracles chose ‘Virtue’. That’s what you call willpower over temptation.
(His moral standards did sometimes slip, however. In another story we are told that when visiting the king of Thespis he managed to get all fifty daughters of the king pregnant. This amazing feat was carried out in a single night.)
For anyone determined to believe, then, but finding contemporary gods not bizarre enough, there are a number of Greek paganism websites to help, www.hellenismos.us, for example: ‘Any questions that you would otherwise feel embarrassed to ask, ask here,’ it offers. How embarrassed the average questioner is we can only guess, but one asks:
‘I am currently learning the skill of flint-knapping; that is, the skill of re-creating stone-age tools using stone-age methods. As I was practicing the other day I thought to myself, ‘To which God/Goddess would I make offerings to in this regard?’
The answer – obvious really – was ‘For craftsmen and other similar professions there would be a special devotion to the cult of Hephaistos-Vulcanus, and likewise that of Athene-Minerva Ergane, whose domain is especially that of manufacturing in its various forms.’
Jesus Christ! What happens if they find themselves worshipping the wrong bloody god?